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This article is taken from PN Review 4, Volume 4 Number 4, July - September 1978.

Louis Simpson: Occasion for a Retrospect Andrew Waterman

WHEN A poet as fine and consistently interesting as Louis Simpson has long been brings out a collection as dismayingly inert as Searching for the Ox, one is prompted to a retrospective look to discover what processes have now overtaken his work. Besides, one has a kind of duty to place the unworthy in its due context, and gratefully approve the real achievement.

Stylistically, Simpson's development has followed a pattern familiar among American poets of his generation. His work of the forties and fifties employed traditional forms and rhyme, often achieving felicitously compelling inevitability. 'To the Western World', from A Dream of Governors (1959), is a classic in this early manner:

A siren sang, and Europe turned away
From the high castle and the shepherd's crook.
Three caravels went sailing to Cathay
On the strange ocean, and the captains shook
Their banners out across the Mexique Bay.

And in our early years we did the same.
Remembering our fathers in their wreck
We crossed the sea from Palos where they came
And saw, enormous to the little deck,
A shore in silence waiting for a name.

The treasures of Cathay were never found.
In this America, this wilderness
Where the axe echoes with a lonely sound,
The generations labor to possess
And grave by grave we civilize the ground.

Perhaps obliquely glossing Frost's ...

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